Bangladesh. Young Rohingya refugees look out over Palong Khali refugee camp, a sprawling site located on a hilly area near the Myanmar border in south-east Bangladesh.© UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

31 people are newly displaced every minute of the day

In 2017, the number of people forcibly displaced from their homes worldwide came at a record rate of 44,400 every day. Fuelled in large part by new crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Myanmar, as well as the ongoing conflict in Syria, this population swelled by a net 2.9 million last year, raising the cumulative total to 68.5 million at the year’s end. It means the world’s forcibly displaced population has now overtaken that of the United Kingdom and reached another record high.

The Global Trends Report is published every year to analyze the changes in UNHCR’s populations of concern and deepen public understanding of ongoing crises. UNHCR counts and tracks the numbers of refugees, internally displaced people, people who have returned to their countries or areas of origin, asylum-seekers, stateless people and other populations of concern to UNHCR. These data are kept up to date and analyzed in terms of various criteria, such as where people are, their age and whether they are male or female. This process is extremely important in order to meet the needs of refugees and other populations of concern across the world and the data help organizations and States to plan their humanitarian response. The data presented are based on information available as of 15 May 2018 unless otherwise indicated.



Bangladesh. An eight-year-old Rohingya refugee girl stands beneath a UNHCR solar lantern outside her shelter at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh. “I feel happy to have light; it helps me to study,” she says. Newly arrived families receive solar lanterns as part of their emergency relief package. © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

In 2017 16.2 million people were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict or generalized violence. This equates to 44,400 people every day and is the highest number recorded by UNHCR.

It brings the total worldwide population of forcibly displaced people to a new high of 68.5 million. This includes 40 million internally displaced people (IDPs), 25.4 million refugees and 3.1 million asylum-seekers.

The past decade has seen a substantial increase in the world’s forcibly displaced population, with the number standing at 42.7 million in 2007. It brings the total worldwide population of forcibly displaced people to a new high of 68.5 million. This includes 40 million internally displaced people (IDPs), 25.4 million refugees and 3.1 million asylum-seekers. The conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria) and significant displacements in Burundi, Central African Republic, the DRC, Iraq, Myanmar, South Sudan, Sudan, Ukraine and Yemen have driven an increase to the levels observed today.

Increases driven by worsening situations and ongoing conflicts

The increase in the global population of forcibly displaced people last year comes as a result of deteriorating situations in several countries as well as continued conflict in other areas of significant displacement.

Syria remained the country with the highest forcibly displaced population in 2017 with 12.6 million at the year’s end. This total comprises 6.3 million refugees, 146,700 asylum-seekers and 6.2 million IDPs. Colombia, again, had the second largest displaced population, at 7.9 million people (7.7 million of which were IDPs) while displacement from Afghanistan (4.8 million), South Sudan (4.4 million), Iraq (3.3 million) and Somalia (3.2 million) also remained high.

The DRC’s displaced population grew to the third largest worldwide in 2017 as the situation in the country deteriorated, with 5.1 million Congolese forcibly displaced at the year’s end. Meanwhile in Myanmar, at least 655,500 Rohingya refugees arrived in Bangladesh, mainly concentrated in only 100 days from the end of August.

New figures on unaccompanied children

UNHCR is constantly seeking to develop the ways in which it measures displaced populations, so that aid can be provided to those who need it.

One of the most vulnerable groups of displaced people are children who are unaccompanied by, or have become separated from, an adult. At present, reliable figures on these children are hard to come by. According to asylum application figures, 45,500 such children were reported to have applied for asylum in 2017, although this figure is almost certain to be an underestimate.

In an effort to begin to address this lack of information on such a vulnerable population, UNHCR has, this year, reported unaccompanied and separated children among the registered refugee and asylum-seeker population which stands at 138,700. While this number is only reported from a limited number of operations where UNHCR conducts registration and maintains its own database, it is hoped that this will lead to an improvement in the reporting on displaced children.



Tanzania (United Republic of). Burundian refugees and members of the host community come together once a week to sell and buy products at this common market outside the main gates of Nduta camp in western Tanzania. © UNHCR/Georgina Goodwin

The world’s refugee population stood at 25.4 million people at the end of 2017, having increased by more than 10 per cent since the previous year. This figure includes 5.4 million Palestine refugees under UNRWA’s mandate and is the highest known total to date.

This is the sixth year in a row that the total number of refugees under UNHCR’s mandate has increased.

South Sudan and Myanmar crises cause new refugee numbers to grow

Sub-Saharan Africa saw the largest increase in refugee numbers for any UNHCR region in 2017 with the population increasing by more than a fifth to 6.3 million by the year’s end. This was driven in the main by the crisis in South Sudan which led to 1 million people fleeing their homes.

Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to 31 per cent of the global refugee population, overtaking Europe last year.

About 2.7 million people became newly displaced to another country during 2017, double the amount in 2016, and close to the record number of new refugee arrivals registered in 2014.

After South Sudan, the Syrian conflict continued to cause new refugee registrations, especially in Turkey.

The third-largest group of new refugees originated from Myanmar. Due to the outbreak of violence in Rakhine State at the end of August 2017, 655,500 Royhinga people were forced to cross the border into Bangladesh, where they were granted temporary protection. Most of the population are women and children.

Refugees overwhelmingly originate in less developed nations

War-torn Syria continued to be the country from which more refugees have originated than any other. By the end of 2017 a total of 6.3 million people from Syria were classed as refugees – nearly a third of the global refugee population under UNHCR’s mandate and a 14 per cent increase since 2014.

The majority of these refugees (3.4 million) from Syria were hosted in Turkey – the country that hosts more refugees than any other globally – although Syrian refugees have been granted asylum in 129 countries worldwide, including large numbers in Lebanon, Jordan, Germany and Iraq.

Afghanistan is the source of the second-largest refugee population globally with 2.6 million people having fled by the end of 2017, with South Sudan – the country with the biggest increase in 2017 – accountable for the third-largest with 2.4 million.

The world’s refugee population overwhelmingly hails from its least developed nations with nine of the ten most common countries of origin falling into this category.

Most refugees also mainly hosted by developing nations

Some 85 per cent of the world’s refugees are hosted in countries in developing regions. One-third of refugees are hosted in the world’s least developed countries.


Helping to provide solutions

Nigeria. These Nigerian youth are among numerous refugees who returned spontaneously from Cameroon, Chad and Niger in 2017. They travelled from Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon, hoping to make it back to their home town of Gwoza, in Borno State, Nigeria, which they heard had been liberated from insurgents. As the situation remains precarious, many returnees have ended up in secondary displacement inside their country. ©UNHCR/Rahima Gambo

UNHCR collects statistics on displaced populations to help find long-term solutions for the people who are forced to leave their homes. This doesn’t necessarily mean returning to their origin country but also includes voluntary repatriation, resettlement to a third country and local integration.

This work involves collaborating with partners including companies in the private sector, international financial institutions and civil society as well as governments, NGOs and other UN agencies.

Refugee returns have increased, but what are they returning to?

The number of refugees who returned to their countries of origin increased in 2017 to 667,400, up from 552,200 in 2016. The majority of these people (518,700) returned home with assistance from UNHCR.

However, the countries to which these people returned reported only that these refugees had returned and not the circumstances of their return. This is important as there is no way to differentiate between those who returned through voluntary repatriation or those who returned spontaneously or in conditions which did not meet those considered necessary for lasting solutions.

Refugee returns from Cameroon to Nigeria are an important example of this. As many as 150,000 of these returns took place in 2017 with UNHCR having expressed concerns over the sustainability and voluntariness of them.

This made Nigeria the country with the highest number of returning refugees in 2017 (282,800), while the Central African Republic was second with 78,600 returns, mostly from the DRC, Chad, and Cameroon. A total of 77,200 Syrians were also reported to have returned to their country.

Dwindling resettlement opportunities

In September 2016 UN member states committed to share more responsibility for refugee resettlement by adopting the Global Compact of Refugees. Consultations on this compact are due to end next month (July 2018), but in the meantime the number of resettlement opportunities available to refugees has decreased.

UNHCR estimates that 1.2 million refugees were in need of resettlement in 2017, a figure that has steadily increased in recent years. The number of resettlement places made available by States had been increasing alongside this demand, reaching a 20-year high in 2016. However, the growth trend in resettlement quotas saw a reversal in this increase last year.

UNHCR submitted 75,200 refugees during 2017, a 54 per cent drop compared with 2016, leaving a 94 per cent gap between needs and actual resettlement places for the year. Based on official government statistics provided to UNHCR, 102,800 refugees were resettled during 2017, a 46 per cent reduction from 2016.

Local integration

Refugees can also find solutions to their situations by integrating within their country of asylum and gaining the right to stay there permanently rather than returning to their origin country. This can be a long road but, given time, can lead to naturalisation and even citizenship.

The scale of local integration of this kind is, at present, difficult to capture with any comprehensiveness. However, during 2017, 28 countries reported at least one naturalized refugee.

In total 73,400 refugees were reported as having been naturalised, a considerable increase on the 23,000 reported in 2016 and the 32,000 in 2015. The main reason for the increase was that Turkey reported naturalizing 50,000 Syrian refugees in 2017, as opposed to none reported previously, accounting for more than two-thirds of naturalizations (68 per cent).


Internally Displaced People (IDPs)

Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mbuyu, a 25-year-old IDP in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has her hair braided by her little sisters. Together with their mother, they fled Taba village in the south-east province of Tanganyika and got separated from their father.
 Violence and human rights abuses in the area have sparked this new wave of displacement in the country. ©UNHCR/Colin Delfosse

The majority of the forcibly displaced population monitored by UNHCR don’t actually leave their country of origin, but are displaced internally. This was the case for 40 million of the 68.5 million forcibly displaced people globally at the end of 2017.

Unlike other numbers within the Global Trends report, last year was the second in a row for which the world’s population of IDPs fell, down from 40.3 million in 2016 and 40.8 million in 2015.

Underlying movement increased significantly

However, this reduction hides rising underlying movement. Over the course of 2017, nearly 8.5 million IDPs were forced to move within their countries due to conflict and violence, almost twice as many as in 2016 (4.9 million) and close to the record of 8.6 million people in 2014.

Due to a number of ongoing military operations in the country, Syria accounted for the largest number of newly internally displaced people in 2017 with 2.9 million people. The DRC (1.9 million), South Sudan (595,800), Somalia (569,300), Iraq (558,300) and Philippines (543,000) make up the rest of the top six.

Some 4.2 million IDPs returned to their areas of origin during 2017, lower than 2016 (6.5 million) but considerably higher than 2015 (2.3 million). The IDP population decreased by another 4.0 million due reasons such as re-classification and statistical adjustments.

Iraq had the highest number of IDP returns (1.5 million) in 2017, followed by Syria (597,200), Sudan (386,200), Nigeria (381,800), the Philippines (318,500) and Pakistan (281,600).

However, due to the ongoing hazardous security situations in these countries these returns do not always signify a long-term solution. For example, in Iraq in November 2017, UNHCR reported that one in four families returning home from camps east of Mosul were returning to disputed territories. Many of these families indicated that they hastened their return, fearing that they could be barred from returning to their villages later on.

The countries with most internal displacement

In 2017, Colombia remained the country with the largest IDP population in the world. According to the Government, 7.7 million IDPs were registered in Colombia, an increase of over a quarter-million from the beginning of the year, with no IDP returns or other decreases reported.

Syria remained the country with the second-highest IDP population despite a decrease from 6.3 million at the end of 2016 to 6.2 million at the end of 2017. The DRC saw a large increase in its IDP population, doubling to 4.4 million – the third largest globally.


Democratic Republic of the Congo

Democratic Republic of the Congo. The plight of these refugee women and children is masked by the sunset as they head towards their camp in Lusenda, in South Kivu Province.© UNHCR/Eduardo Soteras Jalil

The situation in the DRC, already challenging, worsened dramatically in 2017 as conflict expanded into new parts of the country.

Although relative calm did return to large parts of the Kasai region and other areas, with many IDPs returning to their areas of origin, the number of IDPs in DRC doubled from 2.2 million to 4.4 million and refugee numbers also increased.

To further complicate the picture, DRC also hosted over half a million refugees last year. Numbers increased by 104,400 in 2017, primarily due to a massive arrival from the Central African Republic in addition to continuing arrivals from South Sudan and Burundi.

UNHCR’s Regional Refugee Response Plan for the DRC Situation was launched in March 2018. It calls upon the international community – from governments to humanitarian and development actors – to demonstrate stronger commitment to addressing the situation facing the country.



Germany. Ahmed, 37, applied for asylum in Germany in 2015 and now proudly serves with the voluntary fire brigade of Fuerstenwalde, a small town in Brandenburg. Ahmed was born in Somalia but spent most of his life in Yemen, where he volunteered with the Yemen Red Crescent Society. ©UNHCR/Christian Mang

There was a reduction in asylum applications in 2017 with 1.9 million claims lodged with States or UNHCR across 162 countries or territories. Though this is lower than the 2.2 million lodged in 2016 and the 2.5 million lodged in 2015 it represents an increase when compared to the 1.7 million in 2014.

The majority (1.7 million) of the claims in 2017 were initial applications for asylum lodged in first instance procedures. The remaining claims were submitted at second instance, including with courts or other appellate bodies.

The number of asylum-seekers still waiting for a decision to be made on their claim at the end of 2017 increased by more than 10 per cent to 3.1 million people – up from 2.8 million at the end of 2016.

US becomes the country receiving most new asylum applications

The United States of America received the largest number of new claims for asylum with 331,700 in 2017 – nearly double the 172,700 claims from two years previous and a continuation of an upward trend that began in 2013. Countries from North of Central America made up 43 per cent of these claims including 49,500 claims from Salvadorans, 35,300 from Guatemalans and 28,800 from Hondurans.

Although the US received an increase in new claims it made comparatively few decisions on them. Just 65,600 substantive decisions were made on asylum claims in the US in 2017, resulting in a 40 per cent increase in asylum seekers in the country to 642,700. This is the largest asylum-seeker population in the world.

Germany, meanwhile, has seen a sharp decline in asylum applications in recent years with the 198,300 new applications received in 2017 being 73 per cent lower than the 772,400 received in 2016. As in 2016, Germany made the most substantive decisions of any country by a large margin with 573,600 decisions in 2017.

Italy received the third largest number of new asylum applications behind Germany and the US with 126,500, while Turkey came in fourth with 126,100 new claims (although this excludes 680,900 Syrians who receive protection under Turkey’s Temporary Protection Regulation).

Afghanistan overtakes Syria as the top source of applications

For the first time since 2013, Syria was not the most common country of origin for new asylum-seekers. The highest number of asylum claims filed by individuals were from nationals of Afghanistan who submitted 124,900 claims in 80 different countries, although this number is considerably lower than those submitted in 2016 (237,800) and 2015 (239,600).

Syria was the second highest country of origin with 117,100 new claims in 104 countries in 2017, while Iraq was the third most common with 113,500 claims.

Proportion receiving protection drops

At the global level (UNHCR and State asylum procedures combined), 49 per cent of substantive decisions resulted in some form of international protection in 2017. This rate is substantially lower than in 2016 when it stood at 60 per cent but still higher than in years prior to 2014. However, it should be noted that this figure may change as some States have not yet reported their data.

On a country by country level this rate of asylum-seekers gaining protection tends to vary fairly dramatically. Some countries had very low protections rates: Gabon, Israel, Japan, Pakistan and Republic of Korea all had a rate of below 10 per cent. Japan made fewer than 100 positive decisions out of 12,900, resulting in a particularly low protection rate of under 1 per cent.


Stateless People

Kenya. Rashid, an 85-year-old stateless man from Burundi, sits next to his Kenyan wife in front of their home. He is one of some 50 Burundians who came to Kenya in 1941 to work on plantations. After Burundi gained its independence, none of them received citizenship. With most of the community now second generation Burundians born in Kenya, the group has been left stateless. © UNHCR/Tobin Jones

Stateless people are those not considered as nationals by any State under its law. This makes it difficult to accurately track the number of stateless people living in the world – they are by definition living in the margins.

As such, in 2017, UNHCR was only able to account for 3.9 million out of an estimated 10 million stateless persons in the world.

Despite this lack of coverage improvements in data are being made by undertaking targeted studies to establish the scale and profile of an affected population. During 2016, four such studies were completed in countries as diverse as Kazakhstan and Zambia. Another 30 countries and 2 regions are in the process of undertaking similar qualitative studies. UNHCR is also collaborating with statisticians and relevant authorities to include questions on statelessness in future census activities.

The identification of stateless people is key to addressing difficulties they face and to enabling governments, UNHCR, and others to prevent and reduce statelessness. Improving data is important to achieving the objectives of UNHCR’s Global Action Plan to End Statelessness (GAP) and it’s also a key part of achieving the goals of UNHCR’s #IBelong Campaign.

Myanmar: a special case for statelessness

This year UNHCR decided to report the displaced Rohingya population as stateless as well as within the other categories of displacement. Ordinarily this effective double counting would not have taken place, with people only classified as stateless if they do not fit into any of the other forcibly displaced categories.

However, Rohingya population is of such a large size that to not categorise them as stateless would have significantly underrepresented the world’s statelessness figures. At the start of 2017, approximately one million stateless people resided in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, almost all of whom were Muslims who self-identified as Rohingya.

The Rohingya are stateless due to the restrictive provisions and application of the Myanmar citizenship law, which primarily confers citizenship on the basis of race. As a direct result of their statelessness, the Rohingya in Myanmar suffer entrenched discrimination, marginalization, and denial of a wide range of basic human rights.

By the end of the year, 655,500 Rohingya had fled to neighboring Bangladesh, increasing the number of stateless Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to more than 932,200. The vast majority arrived during a massive exodus following violence in August 2017. At the height of the emergency, refugees arrived at the pace of more than 10,000 per day, the largest and fastest refugee influx seen in the region in the past thirty years.

Because they are both stateless and refugees, the Rohingya in Bangladesh are in critical need of international protection. Meanwhile, at the end of 2017, some 470,000 non-displaced stateless Rohingya remained in Rakhine State. In addition, there were 125,600 internally displaced Rohingya—who are also stateless and in need of protection—who have been confined to camps in the central part of Rakhine State since 2012.


Other Groups or People of Concern

Uganda. South Sudanese refugee, Mike (right), with local Ugandan community leader, Yahaya. Mike, who arrived in Bidibidi refugee settlement with his family in 2016, is now farming a piece of land lent by Yahaya. Yahaya knows the importance of being kind to foreigners as he himself was a refugee in 1982, having fled fighting in Uganda. The refugee settlement has had a positive impact on the area, giving members of the host community access to education, water and healthcare. © UNHCR/Jordi Matas

Not everybody who is in need of UNHCR assistance falls within one of the categories used to count displaced or stateless populations. Typical examples of this include returned refugees who remain in need of UNHCR assistance to be locally integrated beyond one year after their arrival, host populations affected by large refugee influxes, and rejected asylum-seekers who are deemed to be in need of humanitarian assistance.

Some 1.6 million people fell within these categories in 2017, twice as many as in 2016. The largest increase during 2017 was due to the economic and security crisis in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The challenging security situation, the loss of income as a result of the current economic situation, and shortages of food and medicines compelled 345,600 to leave their country during the year.


Demographic and Location Data

Bangladesh. Aerial view of Kutupalong refugee camp. This photo shows a new road running through the camp which was constructed by the Bangladeshi Army, with support from UNHCR. The road improves access to the camp and speeds up the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
 © UNHCR/Roger Arnold

Knowing the sex, age and geographical location of a population is vital in order to be able to plan interventions and provide services that address the needs of vulnerable groups.

Nearly half of all refugees were women or girls and about half were children – a higher proportion than is seen in the world population. Africa had a particularly high percentage of children at 59 per cent.

The majority of refugees do not live in camps but in urban areas, in private accommodation. This is especially true for Syrian refugees. Most refugees in rural areas live in camps. How and where people live changes the way that support is provided.

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